New computer software designed to help simplify the task of family history research and hasten the work of redeeming the dead has been announced by the First Presidency.
The software, called FamilySearch, was announced in an April 2 letter to general and local Church leaders.In the letter, the First Presidency also announced that a new system – separate from FamilySearch but using similar technology – is being developed that will enable Church members to clear names for temple ordinances.
"Members will be able to take family history information to their meetinghouse and use a computer system there to check immediately for completed temple ordinances," the First Presidency stated in the letter.
Currently, the family history information must be sent to Church headquarters where it is checked for completed temple ordinances.
"The success of the new system will depend on the work now being done in the Family Record Extraction Program to convert temple records to an automated form," the First Presidency explained in the letter. "We invite stakes not currently participating in this vital program to do so; already participating stakes will want to examine their efforts. Increasing our extraction efforts will hasten the day when members can clear names for ordinance work."
The FamilySearch software – and its associated files stored on compact discs – is being released to some 1,100 family history centers (formerly called branch genealogical libraries) throughout the United States and Canada that have appropriate computer equipment.
A researcher can go to the Family History Library or any of the family history centers and use a computer with the FamilySearch software to search huge genealogical files stored on compact discs, according to Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department.
"These discs make it possible to copy and widely distribute large storehouses of information," Elder Clarke said. "The new technology also enables researchers to make instant, computer-printed copies of information they discover."
Information found with FamilySearch can also be copied to diskettes. Researchers can then take the diskettes home and load the information into their own personal computers. The information can be copied to the diskettes in a format compatible with word processing software or with the Personal Ancestral File, the Church's genealogical software for home computers.
FamilySearch includes computerized versions of three tools in the Family History Library: the Library Catalog, the International Genealogical Index and the Ancestral File.
The Library Catalog describes the content of some 1.6 million rolls of microfilm and 230,000 books in the library's collection. It will be updated at least annually.
The catalog has been available before in card catalog and microfiche versions. But the computerized version on compact disc allows a researcher to find information that would be difficult or impossible to locate manually, according to David M. Mayfield, director of the library.
With a computer the catalog can be searched by location, family names or keywords in the notes and titles of catalog records. Exact spellings of names are not required, as the computer can search the file using only part of a name.
With information from the catalog, anyone in a family history center can order microfilms from the library's extensive collection.
The International Genealogical Index, one of the most used genealogical research tools, is also a part of FamilySearch now.
The index contains information for more than 150 million names, Elder Clarke noted. Once a researcher enters the appropriate name and information into the computer, the computer retrieves the names and information that most closely match the request. The computer can also search the file's Parent Index, which helps locate possible family groups.
The Ancestral File is another component of FamilySearch. It is a collection of family-linked records that have been contributed to the Church since 1979. It is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and will be distributed to family history centers in mid-1990.
Researchers can search for any information the Ancestral File may contain about their ancestry. They can display, print or copy to diskette any information they find. They can also find the name of the person or persons who contributed the information, enabling them to coordinate their research efforts with the contributor of the information.
"This file will become increasingly valuable as researchers continue to contribute their genealogies to it," Elder Clarke noted.
Other FamilySearch files will be announced as they become available, he said.
FamilySearch is available only at family history centers and the library; it may not be ordered for individual or home use and cannot be accessed via computer modem due to reasons of cost and security.
Thousands of users of the Family History Library and the family history centers are not members of the Church. However, they are in a position to share the results of their research with all patrons, Elder Clarke pointed out. It is anticipated that non-members will contribute their compiled research to help build the Ancestral File for the benefit of everyone, he added.